Hotter summers will fuel rise in skin cancers, doctors warn | Skin cancer

Experts have said higher summer temperatures caused by the climate crisis will fuel a rise in cases of life-threatening skin cancers such as melanoma.

The UK recorded its highest temperature of 40.2C last month as climate scientists stressed the heatwave was not one-off and high temperatures were likely to become more frequent.

Now doctors are warning that climate change will cast a long shadow if people spend more time in the sun and are more exposed to UV rays.

“As a clinician treating patients with melanoma, I’m really concerned that a sustained trend towards warmer summers will lead to more cases of melanoma and more deaths from melanoma,” said Sarah Danson, Professor of Medical Oncology at the University of Sheffield.

Julia Newton-Bishop, clinician scientist who leads the Melanoma Research Group at the University of Leeds, said: ‘Melanoma is caused primarily by sunburn, and this weather is so extreme that I fear the sunburn does and later increases the incidence of melanoma.”

According to data from Cancer Research UK, death rates from skin cancer among men in the UK have more than tripled since the 1970s, with increases also recorded among women. It is thought the increase may be due to a number of factors, including greater sun exposure due to package holidays, with Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, warning that a sunburn once every two years can triple the risk of skin cancer. .

Professor Dann Mitchell, a climate science expert at the University of Bristol, noted that the relationship between warmer weather and health could be indirect.

“One of the clearest signals of climate change is rising temperatures, not just in summer, but all year round,” he said. “This change in temperature is also changing behaviors, and Britons tend to go out more when the temperatures are warm. This leads to greater exposure to sunlight throughout the year and, importantly, greater exposure to the UV portion of that sunlight, which is a known risk factor for skin cancer.

Mitchell added that the long-term health consequences of the climate crisis had not been discussed enough.

“This is because we cannot say that a specific heat wave caused a specific cancer. Rather, we relate the increased risk of cancer to the integration of many hotter days, with those hotter days being made more likely due to human-induced climate change,” he said, adding that more research in this area is needed.

Karis Betts, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said it was too early to know the impact of recent heat waves on skin cancer cases, as cancer typically takes several years to develop. grow.

But she added: “It’s important to remember that it’s the sun’s ultraviolet rays rather than its heat that cause sunburn and skin cancer. The sun can be strong enough to burn from mid-March to mid-October here in the UK whether it’s a heatwave or not.

Danson said there were a number of steps that could be taken to reduce sun exposure and avoid sunburn, including staying completely out of the sun from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., sitting shade, cover up with shirts and hats, and wear and reapply sunscreen. .

“Anyone who is worried about a new or changing mole should seek advice from their GP straight away because early diagnosis is really important and we have treatments available,” she said.